The (ir)relevance of unemployment for labour market policy attitudes and welfare state attitudes

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2019
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Typically, associations between being unemployed and policy attitudes are explained with reference to economic self-interest considerations of the unemployed. Preferences for labour market policies (LMP) and egalitarian preferences are the prime example and the focus of this study. Its aim is to challenge this causal self-interest argument: self-interest consistent associations of unemployment with policy preferences are neither necessarily driven by self-interest nor necessarily causal. To that end, this article first confronts the self-interest argument with a broader perspective on attitudes. Given that predispositions (e.g., value orientations) are stable and influence more specific policy attitudes, it is at least questionable whether people change their policy attitudes simply because they get laid off. Second, the article derives a non-causal argument behind associations between unemployment and policy attitudes, arguing that these might be spurious associations driven by individuals’ socioeconomic background. After all, the entire socioeconomic background of a person is simultaneously related to both the risk of getting unemployed (‘selection into unemployment’) and distinct political socialisation experiences from early childhood onwards. Third, this article uses methods inspired by a counterfactual account on causality to test the non-causal claims. Analyses are carried out using the fourth wave of the European Social Survey and applying entropy balancing to control for selection bias. In only two of the 31 analysed countries do unemployment effects on egalitarian orientations remain significant after controlling for selection bias. The same holds for effects on active LMP attitudes with the exception of six countries. Attitudes towards passive LMP are to some degree an exception since effects remain in a third of the countries. Robustness checks and Bayes factor replications showing evidence for the absence of unemployment effects support the general impression from these initial analyses. After discussing this article's results and limitations, its broader implications are considered. On the one hand, the article offers a new perspective on the conceptualisation and measurement of unemployment risk. On the other hand, its theoretical argument, as well as its treatment of the resulting selection bias, can be broadly applied. Thus, this article can contribute to many other research questions regarding the (ir)relevance of individual life events for political attitudes and political behaviour.

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320 Politik
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counterfactual causality; political socialisation; economic self-interest; unemployment; policyattitudes
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ISO 690WEHL, Nadja, 2019. The (ir)relevance of unemployment for labour market policy attitudes and welfare state attitudes. In: European Journal of Political Research. Wiley-Blackwell - SSH. 2019, 58(1), pp. 141-162. ISSN 0304-4130. eISSN 1475-6765. Available under: doi: 10.1111/1475-6765.12274
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@article{Wehl2019irrel-58537,
  year={2019},
  doi={10.1111/1475-6765.12274},
  title={The (ir)relevance of unemployment for labour market policy attitudes and welfare state attitudes},
  number={1},
  volume={58},
  issn={0304-4130},
  journal={European Journal of Political Research},
  pages={141--162},
  author={Wehl, Nadja}
}
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